This article was published on January 25th, 2018
Guest author: Andrew Londyn, author of Grindr Survivr
Ivy-league lawyer, blogger, Huffington Post commentator and author of Grindr Survivr: How to Find Happiness in the Age of Hookup Apps, Andrew Londyn is no stranger when it comes to dating in the era of mobile apps. Andrew provides concrete advice and insights into the world of online dating. Today, Andrew shares his insights on the rise of hate crimes and the need for heightened safety in the age of online dating apps…
I cannot begin to fathom the sickness and depravity of men who use apps such as Grindr to seek out and target gay men for brutal and heinous attacks. Nigel Garrett, a Texas man, used Grindr to target four gay men. Each time, Garrett and several accomplices violently assaulted, humiliated, tied up, and threatened to murder each victim before robbing them. A robbery is a traumatic incident for anyone: victims feel violated and insecure in what should be their safest space. But these men weren’t just there to steal – they were there to terrorize, enjoying their victims’ fear. I can’t imagine the abject terror one must feel in that position: part of you must be preparing yourself for death – you’d probably be thinking about your loved ones and that you’d never get to see them again. Part of you probably feels guilty for having met a stranger on a less than reputable app like Grindr. “How could I be so stupid?” probably dances through your head, which inevitably gives way to “Are they going to kill me?” Reading some of the details sent shivers down my spine. These events were truly horrific, and 15 years for Garrett and his co-defendants doesn’t seem like enough.
Although I don’t live anywhere near Texas, I couldn’t help but think “Were there any clues from Garrett’s Grindr chats that might have indicated that he was up to no good?” I sincerely wish I knew. I would hope that Grindr would collaborate with law enforcement officials to help promote safer online dating practices. But in my book, Grindr Survivr, I have an entire chapter on how to spot fake profiles, and I realized that some of my tips to spot deceptive profiles could be adapted to help users be more aware and potentially avoid being victims of crime.
Avoid Blank Profiles!
People using profiles that are completely blank do not want to be found, and that’s generally a bad sign. In my experience, these are often people who aren’t out of the closet or often cheating on their boyfriends, but I’d guess people who are targeting gays don’t want their own faces plastered around for hundreds of people to see. If someone messages you and their profile is completely blank, proceed with extreme caution.
Get His Number
Apps like Grindr allow people to chat, send photos and share their locations all without swapping numbers. But in order to protect yourself, you should always get someone’s phone number. Again, if they don’t want to give you their phone number, it’s a sign that at best, they weren’t that keen to meet you and were probably going to flake out on you anyway. At worst, they might be seeking to do you harm. If he doesn’t want to give you his phone number, I’d avoid him altogether.
Look Them Up on Social Media
If you’re thinking of inviting a stranger into your home, you have every right to verify that they are who they say they are. And it can’t hurt to look them up on social media. Facebook is best, but often we don’t want to appear stalkerish or too nosey. But if homophobic attacks on dating apps becomes common place, it may be a necessity to share your Facebook information. Your safety matters more than a brief but awkward exchange of information.
Another good option is Instagram. With it’s focus on pictures, you can easily see that the person’s face, surroundings, friends, habits etc. If someone says they don’t have Instagram, check their age. 60% of people under 35 are active users of Instagram. So if they claim to be 22 but don’t have Instagram, again, this is a red flag. It’s true that people can always give you an incorrect Instagram profile that belongs to someone else, but you can always try sending that person a message and seeing if they respond.
SnapChat similarly allows you to send a brief selfie to someone else. Do it. You may not feel photogenic, but that’s why SnapChat has all those animal ears filters. If a person doesn’t want you to see his social media, it’s probably not a good thing, so don’t invite him over!
Watch Out for Rushed Conversations
Often people who are trying to deceive you want to meet you RIGHT NOW! They don’t want to engage in long conversations – in part because they may fear that they’ll be exposed. There might be other reasons for people hitting the proverbial gas, but when people seem a little too pressed to meet, something may be wrong. Some times you just have to trust your gut. And if the chat feels wrong, it probably is.
Ask if They Are Cat-Fishing You!
I know this sounds silly, but it’s actually proven quite effective for me personally. If someone hasn’t shared their phone number and/or any of their social media profiles, I just flat out ask them “Are you Cat-Fishing me?” Presumably, someone who’s trying to deceive you needs to know that you’re falling for their deceptive tactics. Of course, once you ask them that simple question everyone will say “No, of course not.” But the deceptive people tend to stop responding after that. I don’t know whether this would have worked against Garrett or other would-be attackers, but it might make a difference in whether they decide to attack you as opposed to someone else. If they know your guard is up, they may be less likely to target you.
Meet Somewhere Other Than At Your Front Door
Most people accept that it’s always safer to meet in a public place like a bar or coffee shop. But Garrett and his gang targeted gay men in their homes. If your first meet is at your home, I would hope that you’ve already verified who they are. But there are always a few more precautions you can take.
If you live in a city with good public transportation, meet him at the subway station. You’ll look chivalrous for taking the time to greet him and walk him to your place, and you’ll also get the chance to give this guy a good once over in public before he enters your home.
If you live in an apartment building, meet them at the front door to the building. Get a good look at him and his surroundings before you open that door to let him in. If you have a balcony or good view from a window, watch the your date approach to see if anything is out of the ordinary.
This may be a tad paranoid, but you can always wait outside your home – possibly across the street – to see who shows up. You can always give him a fake excuse like “I had to run to the 7/11 to get condoms.” But this gives you an opportunity to watch from a distance and see if the situation feels right. And obviously, if someone shows up with three other people, you’ll be glad you’re not there. This may all seem overly paranoid, until you’re the target of a crime. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
I accept that a smart criminal can get past any of the precautions I’ve suggested. But most criminals aren’t that smart; hence, why Garrett was caught. But using these strategies may help you be more aware and avoid situations that feel unsafe. The more information a would-be attacker is forced to share, the more likely it is he’ll be brought to justice. We may not be able to stop all homophobic attacks that occur on dating apps, but we can make it harder for criminals to commit and more likely that they’re caught.